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Equality?

Equality?

By Marco M. Pardi

…all men are created equal.” The second paragraph of the United States Declaration of Independence.

All of us do not have equal talent, but all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop our talents.” John F. Kennedy. 6 June 1963.

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

Although I’ve had college classes in the subject, I make no pretense to be a political scientist. I am merely a participant-observer of the human condition. But surely every reader of this column can discern a distinct difference in the two statements rendered above. I have always viewed the first statement as well meaning but dreadfully naive. The second statement, although rather soft, provokes us to consider what is meant by “talent”. Does that mean capacity, as in the capacity for critical thinking? Or are we to sidetrack ourselves toward discussions of child prodigies such as Mozart and others like him?

In a time when we, the species Homo sapiens, face decisions which will decide whether we perish or prosper we must honestly and critically examine the predicate upon which we empower people to make those decisions. We are long past the ethic of, If you screw up a place, just move. We are in the corner and the paint is not just wet, it’s rising.

What are these decisions mentioned above? Let’s start with Climate Change, gaining speed and momentum like an oil tanker train and needing many miles of track before it can stop and then reverse. How about an essentially Fascist regime in the White House in an era when most Americans seem unable to identify Fascism even as it speaks lies to them through their ubiquitous sources of “news”? Or what about the regime developed Tax Code revisions which favor the Kleptocrats while scheming to pay for it through cuts to Social Security, MediCare, MediCaid, the Public School System, and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program? We could also discuss the current attacks on the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Then there is the Man/Baby in the White House who seeks to deflect attention from his impeachment by assassinating a very highly placed figure in a foreign and hostile government. (Interestingly, the film 1917 is now playing. Perhaps a tiny few in the audience will remember that WWI was started with the assassination of one man – Archduke Ferdinand). Are these good for a start? Actually, I’m sure they are since the readers of this column demonstrate they think deeply and critically. Can we say that of every person who is entitled to vote?

As I’ve written of previously, I differentiate “smart” and “intelligent”. And again, I caution against the facile trap of conjuring a stereotypic image of a “dumb person” with a “smart person”. All physicians are smart; they have learned what was needed to graduate from medical school and pass the Boards. Not all physicians are intelligent. That is, not all of them are able to take the information they have learned and generate new knowledge. At the other end of the social scale I knew a retired train engineer (he drove them; he did not design them) who left school after third grade to do what he could to financially help his family. Despite his almost total hearing loss we spent many hours discussing a wide array of current events and the insights afforded us by history. How did we do that? In every spare moment he developed his reading skills and voraciously read all the serious literature he could get his very dirt stained hands on. Many of my physician friends would have been lost at “Hello”.

As an author I have been watching an accelerating trend since the 1970’s: serious readership has been markedly declining at an ever faster pace. Daily newspapers are going out of business almost as quickly as restaurants. Independent bookstores are disappearing. Even network television news programs are in dramatic decline, losing viewers to other media outlets which, in many cases, are nothing more than propaganda organs. Lets look at these trends.

The research organization STATISTA tracks reading trends in the United States. The collated findings of several national surveys indicate the following:

“ On average, Americans aged 20 to 34 spend a mere 0.11 hours reading daily, which amounts to less than seven minutes per day. Although the time spent reading increases in the older generations, the general trend is worrying – an overall average of only 0.28 hours spent reading per day. Despite these stunning numbers, there are also some positive things to note: As of 2018, 74 percent of adults stated that they have read at least one book in the past year, and additionally, Americans continue to spend around 110 U.S. dollars per year on reading.” 

Average annual expenditure on reading per customer in the U.S.: 108 USD. Share of U. S. adults who have read at least one book in the past year: 72%. Average Daily Time Spent Reading in the U.S.: 15.6 minutes.”

While the figures above give us little to no insight into the types of books read, perhaps the figures on magazines will do so:

Entertainment and TV: 7.11%

Science, Nature or Medicine: 3.61%

Political: 2.77%

Scholarly: 1.01%”

Is it any wonder a television “reality” show host, producer of insipid beauty contests, and purveyor of “conspiracy theories” was elected as President of the United States of America? I was not at all surprised.

One of the more puzzling recent developments is the push to lower the voting age to 16. Some point to Greta Thunberg, the Swede who, at the age of 15, captured the world’s attention with her brilliant indictment of Climate Deniers. Yet, many say she is an exception. I think the claim she is an exception is an American bias. During the 22 years I taught at various universities and colleges I consistently found that students whose K-12 education was European, British, or Scandinavian based were far better able to understand and discuss the nuances and ramifications of world events, especially world politics. Perhaps American schools seek to produce smart students, able to remember and repeat what they have been taught while other systems seek to produce intelligent students able to understand, extrapolate, and build on what they have learned.

Another caveat against the granting of the vote to 16 year old people is the information about the development of the brain itself. But I cannot accept this applies only to Americans. Note the “starting at 16 or 17” in the following:

The front part of the brain, responsible for functions such as complex reasoning, problem-solving, thinking ahead, prioritizing, long-term planning, self evaluation and regulation of emotion, begins to develop in early adolescence with a final developmental push starting at age 16 or 17. It is not that these tasks cannot be done before young adulthood, but rather that it takes more effort and requires practice.” K. Teipel of the State Adolescent Health Resource Center, Konopka Institute, University of Minnesota.

Should I assume, then, that American adolescent brains are “wired” differently? I think not. Rather, I will conclude that the American culture is wired differently. I would like to know if, and to what extent, Teipel’s study sample included subjects from various cultures and educational systems. Unfortunately, I do not have that information but I will venture to suggest that his results were at least in part culturally influenced.

My point here is that until the American culture makes a fundamental shift from trying to produce smart to trying to produce intelligent we will see a rapidly worsening gap between those who have the answers appropriate to yesterday and those who have the competence to negotiate tomorrow. As tomorrow advances upon us with ever increasing speed our “equal opportunity to develop our talents” is rapidly diminishing. We must become sober and serious in the granting of power to affect the course of our journey into the future that our profligate past has brought us.

Self Rule

Self Rule

by Marco M. Pardi

Democracy, as conceived by politicians, is a form of government, that is to say, it is a method of making people do what their leaders wish under the impression that they are doing what they themselves wish.” Bertrand Russell Sceptical Essays. 1928

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” H. L. Mencken A Little Book in C Major. 1916

I would first like to thank the many readers who maintained their interest in my offerings throughout my recent absence from these pages. I had a rather invasive surgery from which I am still recovering, and did not wish to broadcast that beforehand.

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

Questions pertaining to self rule have been around since the expansion of small and scattered human populations beyond the band level. We rely on history, largely through recovery of written records, to chart the development of these questions and the answers then devised. But it is easy to forget that literate societies were the exception, not the rule in the evolution of human societies.

Indeed, literacy did not spread uniformly even through the societies which produced it; scribes were highly trained and revered individuals most often owing their training and their employment to the rulers. Obviously, therein lies a problem. People became literate through schooling approved by the governing elite. The “history” they wrote was thus the narrative approved by that elite. Departures from that narrative were censored and/or destroyed, as were many of the authors.

While there have been societies with remarkably greater personal freedoms than our currently common history books admit, the United States is arguably the first society to institutionalize freedom of the press through established law. Yet today we see that cherished principle under severe attack from the currently governing elite. This attack is not entirely new in the United States. The phrase “liberal media” has a long history here. But in all the years I’ve heard that jingoistic phrase I never heard the claim I hear repeated by the President today: “The media is the enemy of the people!”

I suspect that if we look closely at the phrase liberal media we will see it articulates the threat; the people broadcasting the news (the daily narrative) have likely been educated in schools which present a more complete picture and which encourage critical thinking when examining the revelations and the implications in that picture. This is an existential threat to a regime which seeks to turn blatant facts on their heads (“alternative facts”), to deny the self evident (“Don’t believe what you see and hear.”), and to solidify loyalty through the inculcation of an unshakable belief system. But Fact is the enemy of belief. Where there is fact, there is no need for belief.

Any large and complex society will, by its nature, have dissenting voices. Those voices will compete for prominence on the public stage. Regimes that can afford to do so will develop their own voice, masquerading as Fair and Balanced news. These regimes will also wage disinformation and slander campaigns against the institutions of higher learning which threaten to expose the truths and to develop thinking minds instead of believing minds. The derogatory label, Ivory Tower comes to mind. The current regime’s Secretary of Education repeatedly states her intent to abolish public schools altogether, funding only those schools which inculcate the regime’s narrative.

Even though the demographics of other developed nations are changing due to immigration, the instant worldwide connection provided by the internet and international news, and other factors, the United States remains unusual in the degree to which it is internally diverse. This, then, begs the question: How long can such an internally diverse society, equipped with an ever growing access to world facts and opinions remain a cohesive state? As the rhetoric intensifies and the many factions increasingly engage in overt and covert means of swaying public opinion are we looking at a society in which the “losers” in this struggle will be forced to stay in place and accept the consequences because, for many reasons, there will be no other places capable of accepting them all?

I remember the repressive 1950’s and the explosive 1960’s when those who saw their intellectual freedoms shrinking claimed the Scandinavian countries were the place to go. If not there, then certainly Australia. I can personally tell you the Scandinavian countries were not very interested in people with less than an advanced degree and solid means of support. I had the advanced degree, but coming in second for a professorship at the University of Trondheim was just not good enough to warrant admission to Norway. As for Australia, if it was ever as open as once believed, it is not so now.

In any case, why should anyone have to consider leaving? An increasing number of world leaders view the “policies?” of America as the greatest single existential threat to the Planet today. America is more governed by whim than by policy with the possible exception of frenzied deregulation of every safeguard we have put in place over generations of scientific learning. Better to stay in the country and work to protect those regulations and to return them into effect.

America has been called The Great Experiment, particularly over its emphasis on diversity. But is the definition of that diversity due for a change? Look at employment forms and you will see a litany of demarcations: Religion, ethnic origin, and etc.

Should we now demarcate the population into the well informed, the uninformed, and the misled? The intelligent and the not so intelligent? Who should decide the distinctions? Self reported does not seem a good option. A domestic panel would be suspect. So, maybe the Russians will do that for us, too. And what price do we pay when, as in 2016 the misled out voted the well informed? Or was it the not so intelligent out voting the intelligent?

Most of us are familiar with the concept of diminishing returns. Does that concept apply to the ability of a state to maintain its internal coherence? We have lately heard the term Tribalism applied to American society. Tribes govern themselves through a body of Elders, people who have the accumulated wisdom to discuss current challenges and agree on answers. Yet we have only a Two Party system supposedly able to understand and resolve the problems and challenges facing a quickly changing population that is obviously much larger than simply two tribes.

I think the two party system has run its course. And, it does further damage when independent candidates run and never accomplish anything except draining votes from the occasional good candidate presented by the two party system.

So what’s the solution? I’ve long advocated a parliamentary system, with lessons learned from British and European examples. Not only is it potentially more inclusive, it addresses the chronic problem of term limits: Dissatisfied with a long term seat warmer? A vote of No Confidence takes him or her out. A parliamentary system also seems, if we examine other world examples, to increase voter turnout. The United States, as I am aware, has among the lowest if not the lowest voter turnout among democratic systems. Is this self rule, or is it leaving it to the other guy?

Those of us who are parents remember, or may be going through the period when we evaluate our children to determine if they can be left alone while we have a night out. We are evaluating their ability for self rule. Those of us who have or have had aging parents go through the same process. We evaluate and determine when “it’s time” for our parents or parent to be moved into a level of Assisted Living. We evaluate their continued ability, or lack thereof, for self rule.

Looking back on the Great Experiment which is this country, we must ask if the experiment has run its course. Like our aging parents, has the country become too fractured into immovable camps, too confused, too disintegrated, and too apathetic to continue being entrusted with self rule. If so, what is the answer? What do you think, Dear Reader? The stakes are too high to continue handing off the decision to the other guy.

Sins of the Fathers

Sins of the Fathers

by Marco M. Pardi

“You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me.” Deuteronomy 5:9 and Exodus 20:5

“Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” Exodus 34:7 and Numbers 14:18

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

To be very clear, while I do not subscribe to the concept of a personalized God, I hold a deep respect for those few believers I have known who do so honestly, living fully according to the precepts of their religions. That in no way means I agree with them; it means I respect honesty. I have no respect whatsoever for people who wrap themselves in the mantle of a religion while living an anathema to that religion, the people who have used that mantle to enrich themselves. I have lived among and worked with people of the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I’ve also lived where these religions were practically unknown.

Western society generally prides itself on the position that you can believe whatever you want to believe so long as you do not force it on others, or bring harm to others. That appears to be rapidly changing in the United States.

There should be no doubt that, even among reasonable people, themes fundamental to religions permeate through the social and political systems of those people. Of course, we could say the reverse is also true; social and political themes which became religious themes did so by the simple grafting on an assumed “divine authority”. One of the more puzzling themes I have encountered is that of visiting punishment, or some sort of reckoning onto the descendants of those who supposedly committed some offense.

I first encountered this concept when, as an Italian child relatively new to the post WWII United States I met with some hostility from other children who claimed their fathers fought against the Germans and the Italians, two of the Axis Powers.

Of course, I was not savvy enough to generate a meaningful rebuttal. I knew only that my father was distinctly not a Fascist; he was sympathetic to the deposed King of Italy, but was strongly in favor of a British style parliamentary system. (I later learned how he used his position – Colonel – to orchestrate resistance against the German occupation of Italy.) But Americans, especially kids, knew little or nothing about internal Italian politics. So, I relied on less cerebral skills to deal with those wishing to resume hostilities.

At that time we lived in the North. I learned about the Civil War with some disinterest, it not being my war. And I read about current Southern White hostility toward Northerners. I thought that understandable, Northerners being able to speak grammatical English and more likely having a full set of teeth. But when I moved to the South I again encountered hostility. Older by this time, I tried to explain I came to this country; I was neither a “Yankee” or a “Rebel”. Some years later I began reading about “reparations”.

This was a concept I understood. As the German locusts were retreating from Italy during WWII they seized and occupied a 39 room chateau we owned in the Alps above Cortina. The Americans and British duly bombed it to dust and it was only in the mid 1960’s that the government of Germany paid us “reparations”. I did not know the details, but I understood the concept.

Yet here was talk about reparations for the enslavement of Africans brought to the New World. There was precedent. Major German companies were embroiled in court cases over reparations to the survivors of concentration camp labor forced to work for them during the war. Those cases were largely won by the survivors, even the children of those survivors. But the cases were bolstered by the meticulous records the Germans themselves kept of every person imprisoned and subsequently forced into a factory or mine. How could anyone provide documentation specific to a huge slave trade which functioned solely on descriptions such as Adult Male Healthy, Child Female Sickly?

I don’t know, but I suppose some crafty real estate attorney calculated the value of that chateau at the time of the bombing, or perhaps what it would be worth in the 1960’s. I do know that we have seen many wrongly convicted and incarcerated Americans awarded cash settlements after they were freed. I assume those settlements were based upon calculated lost earnings, with perhaps some punitive award thrown in. Native American tribes have successfully sued the federal government for breach of contract subsequent to treaty violations and land confiscation.

But to identify all living African-Americans as necessarily the descendants of people brought here in slavery over 150 years ago – which many are not – and hand each a lump sum cash settlement is clearly unworkable. For one thing, it would mean parcing out tax money in the U.S. treasury to ensure that only money paid in by those presumed to be the descendants of the slavers would be used for the pay out. Otherwise, tax money paid in by the descendants of slaves themselves would be mixed with that paid in by Native Americans, by immigrants from non-slave trading nations, and by descendants of the slavers. How well do you think that would go over?

There are other ways providing reparations. We have known for decades of outright racially based discrimination in many sectors of American society, including availability of loans for housing, small business support, federal subsidies to farmers, and much more. A serious and meaningful response to those issues would result in a deliverable value.

On a worldwide scale, we are already seeing another kind of human displacement: Climate refugees. This is no new problem. Linguistic evidence strongly supports the position that the name Hebrew derives from the Egyptian word hebiru, essentially meaning migrant or itinerant laborer. During repeated droughts in the area which came to be known as Palestine the residents moved to the fertile Nile Valley, taking what jobs they could find.

At the height of Imperial Rome edicts were issued limiting the amount of coal that could be burned in households; a black pall hung over the city in deep winter. People who could, fled the city for the rural villages. And now we are seeing mass migrations in several parts of the world as largely man made climate change drastically alters rainfall, crop growing patterns, forage for livestock, and seawater temperatures which support or deny fish.

Who is the main driver behind climate change? The fossil fuel industry, supported by tax breaks and subsidies passed by our elected officials and their appointed minions. Through disclosure of internal documents we now know that the major oil and gas companies knew they were destroying the environment as early as, or before, the 1960’s. Yet they have grown into the world’s most profitable and most powerful multi-national companies. Their tax sheltered income is in the trillions; their power resides in their ability, as a cartel, to turn off the tap and roll living conditions back into the 1800’s.

And their air pollution and the water pollution which changes the chemical balance of salt and fresh water is acceptable to a large portion of humanity which sees it as a side effect of the medicine needed to fix and maintain everyday life.

Most people are aware of the Deep Water Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Few people are aware of another such blowout. Twelve miles off the coast of Louisiana a drilling rig toppled in 2004 by Hurricane Ivan has been leaking 700 barrels of oil every day up to the present day, and is still leaking at that rate (U.S. Govt. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement). The same Bureau said, “For every 1,000 wells in state and federal waters, there’s an average of 20 uncontrolled releases – or blowouts – every year. A fire erupts offshore every three days, on average……” (USG, BSEE) The Gulf of Mexico is the world’s largest open sewer. And who are the new hebirus, the new migrants fleeing the changing conditions which spawn violence and desperation? We are seeing them all over the world, drowning in the Mediterranean, being killed in the Middle East and in Asia, and having their children forcibly taken from them at the U.S. border. Well over 5,400 children have been taken, most shipped to unknown and now untraceable locations. ICE has admitted it had no tracking technology when it sent infants and children to foster homes, shelters, and orphanages throughout the U.S.

But America, despite its claim to “Pro-Life” is growing support for Draconian laws proposed and passed by elected representatives banning abortion under most or all circumstances and restricting or banning access to contraception, dooming many children to homelessness, poverty, hunger, revolving door foster care, juvenile and adult prison, and the desperation that leads to acceptance of any kind of work, be it drug trafficking, prostitution or what amounts to mercenary enlistment into an imperial military. The very same elected legislators who propose and enact the “Pro-Life” laws are attempting to eliminate Social Security, MediCare, MediCaid, school lunch support, and SNAP – the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (the proposed cut to SNAP is 450 billion dollars).

Looking back at that title, Sins of the Fathers, we might ask ourselves who the fathers are. Of course, we must recognize that the concept originated within a rabidly patriarchal society. So, we can now understand “fathers” in a more inclusive sense not restricted to males.

Who paid us for the loss of our chateau and all its furnishings and personal items over twenty years previously? The aircrews who bombed it? The German General Staff who ordered the seizure? No. The next generation of German taxpayers, the people struggling to put their lives back together paid us. They paid for the sins of the fathers.

Years of hard fought legal and even physical battles have won advances for African-Americans now living in America. But who should pay for the lives lost or spent in abject misery during the years of organized slavery? How should it be paid? To whom? The original “fathers” are long dead.

Who should pay for the officially approved genocide of Native Americans, the hundreds of treaty violations, the forced dislocation of people to lands so poor they could barely feed themselves, the confinement to Reservations? How should it be paid? To whom? The original “fathers” are long dead.

Who will pay for the lives of our children and grandchildren as they struggle to survive on diminishing arable land, with greatly reduced available seafood and clean water to drink? Who will house and feed the masses attempting to relocate to where life is still possible? Who will answer their questions on how this came about? We are the fathers.

Who will pay for the unwanted children, especially those born with incurable medical conditions they will experience for life, born into circumstances which could not have supported them even before the vicious cuts in the social safety nets? We are the fathers.

The old advertising slogan, BUY NOW, PAY LATER, has been replaced by the unspoken ethic, PILLAGE AND RUIN NOW, THE BILLS WON’T BE DUE IN OUR LIFETIMES.

Yet we are the fathers, and soon enough the paternity suits will hold up in court. In teaching Human Behavioral Science I always destroyed the myth of instinctual “Mother love”. Perhaps the best arguments against that myth have been playing out before our distracted eyes.

Responsibility

Responsibility

by Marco M. Pardi

Today more than ever life must be characterized by a sense of Universal responsibility, not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to other forms of life.” Dalai Lama A Cry From the Forest. 1987

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

Last week I telephoned my dog’s favorite veterinarian and asked him to come to my home, prepared to administer the drugs to end my dog’s life. I will not recount the process which brought us to that point; everyone who has been through this has their own story to tell. I will simply say that he, “Plato”, was nearing fifteen years of age and had developed an incurable and certainly painful and fatal condition. On arrival, the veterinarian, who had cared for Plato for many years and was devoted to him, checked him over and said it was definitely time.

I was sixty three when I adopted Plato from a shelter. He was somewhere over one year old at the time. I knew that the conditions of my life gave greater likelihood to my passing than any accidents or unforeseen health problems would for him. I made arrangements for his care in such a case. But even having had to enact similar end of life scenes with previous dogs, the anticipated years of great companionship outshone that dark cloud I knew could be just over the horizon. He could go before me.

And so, as I sat with him while his breathing eventually stilled, I wondered, despite what my vet friend had told me, if I had done the right thing. If it was definitely time. That night, and the next few days in a cold and empty house I looked back over the years and wondered if I had given him a “full life”, as the trite saying goes. Those years happened to include my relentless advocacy for physician assisted suicide, “death with dignity”, a term many prefer. But I do not recall ever making the connection beyond the many humans I have seen in end of life distress, ever extending it to non-humans. After all, we’ve always had the “right” to end their lives, haven’t we?

When we accept responsibility for a member of a species that, barring other variables, will live a much shorter life than ours we accept the responsibility to ensure their passing is as comfortable as possible. After all, we accept that responsibility in anticipation of the years of companionship, fun, and affection that non-human animal will provide to us. The very least we can do is provide our devotion and commitment at the end.

Looking back, I remember that all my personal dogs were “rescues”, dogs in shelters, with adoption groups, or with people who had puppies to give away. I had no responsibility for them being brought into the world, but I accepted responsibility for them since they were here. I think that matters.

Each and every day about 4,100 dogs and cats are euthanized in shelters in the United States. That is the daily average. Multiply by 365. Some readers may say there are no-kill shelters. That’s true. But it is as often true that some or many of these shelters run out of space and “side door” some of the residents out to shelters with no such policy or to groups which are not well organized to find them homes, putting them back into public shelters where they are lucky to live 72 hours. Anyone experienced in problem management knows it is easy to get lost in dealing with the effects while completely losing sight of the cause or causes. And in this case it is easy to identify and address the causes:

Failure to spay or neuter one’s pets. With the exception of one Samoyed, for whom a litter was recommended before spaying, every one of my cats, dogs, and even horses was spayed or neutered or (in the case of the horses) kept isolated during “heat”. Far too many people project their own sexuality based feelings of “completeness and prowess” onto their companion animals and compound that error by letting them run loose. Contraception – sterilization, in this case – is readily and cheaply available. With millions of dogs and cats being killed yearly there is no need to ensure one’s own dog or cat must be able to reproduce.

Failure to crack down on “puppy mills”. It seems a month doesn’t go by without news coverage of a puppy mill being found in appalling condition, with young females kept in small wire cages awaiting their turn on the “rape stand”. It is not unusual to see a count of over 100 dogs in seriously debilitated condition, several dead or dying, being taken out of these concentration camps. Yet these “business people” pay a fine (a business cost) and are back at it in some other location under a different registration.

And now we are approaching the Christmas season. Television and print media advertisements are already showing young puppies, and some kittens, snuffling around the presents under the tree, even wearing a colorful bow. But the Christmas puppy turns into the Easter chore, and the summer boarding cost at vacation time, and the Thanksgiving nuisance around the laden table. And what will be the Christmas gift this time? These are sentient, feeling beings with as much right to be here as us. But watch what happens at the shelters after the Christmas joy wears off.

I know some people will be irritated by where this piece goes next. But I trust that thus far we, myself and the readers, have felt a certain moral resonance. I cannot contain that resonance; I cannot lay impermeable boundaries around it. My heart and my mind reach out to another Christmas venue: the homes where crawling infants are under foot, the orphanages where children of all ages are warehoused until “placed” – if ever, and the foster homes where children are often acquired simply for the financial benefit derived from State support. I’ve been in these places, especially the homes, countless times in four major metropolitan areas in the United States. I’ve talked with the aging, worn out grandmothers who informed me the mother of the children underfoot was “out runnin’ the streets”.

When I did talk with the mothers, as a federal health officer I was prohibited, under Republican administrations, from even mentioning contraception. But as an assignee to a particular State I was able to get around that, and even hand out condoms. I even had multi-colored condoms to brighten the mood. Sorry ladies, no “lo-cal” condoms.

But moments of humor do not balance lives of misery. Those children would themselves be out “runnin’ the streets”, aging out of orphanages or foster homes, joining gangs in search of the family they never knew. And who among us asks ourselves if we are doing the right thing?

Plato is home now. Actually, he never left. Oh, his body was taken for cremation and returned to me, in a beautiful hand carved rosewood urn. He’s probably figuring how to get out of this box.

His “mommy” is now home, back from her ten day vacation in Costa Rica. We haven’t talked about it.

I still glance at the lower right corner of my monitor to see if it’s time to take him for a walk or prepare his warm meals. I listen for his breathing from the corner of this room where he snoozes and coaches me on writing style.

On the day he was carried out I went through the house picking up his toys, cookies he had hidden for later, his parka and raincoat, leash and harness, and his dinner bowls. His parka is washed, and with everything else is in the basement, where his “mommy” never goes.

Some day I will go to the shelters and an older dog will recognize me. A dog who has been passed over many times. There will almost certainly be disagreement at home. But I probably don’t have very many years left. Loneliness kills. And that’s as true for a dog in a cage as it is for me. Not living by one’s morals, not being Responsible, is just as deadly.

Aware Happiness

Aware Happiness

by Marco M. Pardi

Human happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected.” George Washington.

All comments welcome and will receive a reply.

At a very young age I began to ponder a question which has remained with me to this day: Can a person be truly aware of what is happening in this world, even the impact one’s existence has and yet be happy? Humans have certainly devised a myriad of ways to achieve temporary, fleeting happiness. But is that achieved only through the suppression of our awareness? My early penchant for speaking out on unpleasant issues earned me such titles as “party pooper” and such advice as “You think too much”. I’m guessing every reader has experienced saying or doing something which dampened the mood while presenting realism into a conversation. The latest term I’ve heard is “buzzkill”. As if we’re all supposed to walk around buzzed, as in Brave New World.

But even as children we were taught about consequences. Some of those consequences may have seemed remote, and even illogical, for example the admonition to eat all our food because children were starving elsewhere. I wondered, why not just send this stuff to them? After all, if I eat it they won’t get any. Raised in Catholic schools I got early indoctrination into the concept of sin. What interested me most about the concept was the underlying logic, and its glaring flaws. Nonetheless, there were some valuable ideas there: sins of commission and sins of omission. Commission: Doing something. Omission: Not doing something. If not eating my food was bad, would not sending it to hungry kids be worse?

Of course, these were questions typical of a very young person, a person who just didn’t know “how things really work” in the world. But now my question is this: Having a far deeper and more comprehensive understanding of how things work, can I honestly say I’m happy in this world? Would saying I’m happy automatically ratify the many terrible things I see or learn about every day? If so, what would that make me? A sinner? Or, is there something worse? Many jurisdictions have laws setting punishments for people who know of crimes being committed but do not report them. Am I guilty of collusion, an accomplice during or after the fact, or just cowardice?

Speaking of guilt, there are many who say we are not supposed to be happy here; being incarnate in a physical body is claimed as a vehicle for learning (funny, I was always and still am happiest when I’m learning). So, is a state of happiness merely a break from an unpleasant class, a fleeting delusion that must be put aside? After all, our Constitution safeguards our right to “the pursuit of happiness”.

But is happiness a general state, or is it purely situational like anger, sadness, and other expressed emotions? And if the latter, what does that say about “the pursuit of happiness”? Group therapy sessions often have wall charts with various affective states listed. The participants are then asked to look over the list and state which of them they are feeling at the moment. Okay, but how about ten minutes later, or after an hour of listening to other people moan about their situations? I sometimes say, When I experience a fleeting moment of happiness my first thought is: Mini-Stroke.

On a societal level we somehow weigh potential or real infractions. One may look away as someone takes a pen home from the office, but how about taking the power of the office and using it for personal gain? Is your happiness diminished when someone else gets away with something, even when it does not directly affect you?

Every day I sign dozens of on-line petitions and write several on-line letters to people from the President on down to the local dog catcher. Obviously, many of those address issues which do not intimately affect me. And, what’s worse is that I live in a Republican dominated State; petitions and letters to my “representatives” surely go unread and, if I get any reply at all it is a form letter having nothing to do with what I sent. My letters to the White House have brought me enough meaningless replies to print out and wallpaper my home. I do recognize that my original letters, articulate and informed as they may be, have no influence on “Republican” politicians whose fundamental goal is the installation of a purely Fascist society which enables them to enrich themselves and their masters. I also send out letters and petitions to governments of other countries, to universities, and to private organizations and companies.

So why do it? Once in a while I get a message from an organization that sponsored a petition or asked for a letter telling me my efforts, along with thousands of others, made the difference in resolving the problem. I see that as a source of happiness, just as I see the comments submitted by readers of this blog. But even where I do not get an encouraging message, I feel efforts at churning out daily communications put people on notice that their behaviors – of commission and omission – are being scrutinized.

But perhaps I’ve been aware too long. Perhaps I need to regress to childhood and take what must have been Trump’s developmental path: develop the art of manipulation. I could start with developing a new Action Hero (is that still the term?): AwareMan. Instead of fighting for “truth, justice, and the American way” (Superman) AwareMan would fight for truth, justice, and full awareness of all animate and inanimate existence in the Cosmos. Too ambitious? Maybe. Right now I’m trying to decide how to dress AwareMan. Suggestions are welcome. I assure you I will respond personally.

Time to return to churning again. AwareMan is sensing there are petitions to sign and letters to write.

Nowhereville

Nowhereville

by Marco M. Pardi

There’s a scheme of evasion that has gotten into everybody. It’s as though people were to say: “I get home dog tired after a terrible day out in that jungle, and then I don’t want to think about it. Enough! I want to be brainwashed. I’m going to have my dinner and drink some beer, and I’m going to sit watching tv until I pass out – because that’s how I feel.” That means people are not putting up a struggle for the human part of themselves.” Saul Bellow. “Matters Have Gotten out of Hand”. In A Violent Society.

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

In 1965 the Beatles released their song, Nowhere Man. I suggest we all Google that title and read the lyrics. It will take you only a moment.

Even in those years, the 1960’s, I wondered if the United States was reaching – or had reached, the upper limits of what holds a society together. As we ran from pillar to post, one social crisis after another, we felt we were seeing every institutional pillar of society being exposed as weak, fractured, delusional, built on sand. For many, the “Good Old Days” took on a reality they never for a moment had. Alvin Tofler captured our fear in his book Future Shock, the examination of how the increasingly rapid pace of social change was outpacing our ability to cope with, or even understand it. People withdrew into enclaves of fantasy, long running television series, “New Age” groups – which touted themselves at outwardly focused but were instead simple grottoes for the alienated, “Eastern” religions, “witchcraft” – falsely portrayed as “The Old Religion” but simply a fantasy of personal and/or group power, “swingers” groups, and etc.

As could be predicted, most of these ran their course and were either replaced or marginalized, especially as social fantasy gaming emerged; Dungeons and Dragons, Fantasy Sports teams, and eventually the baffling plethora of internet based games. Far less often we heard the once common question, “Who’s minding the store?”

It could also be predicted, and was, that the accelerating growth of distractions – amusement and calamities alike, would blind the American people to the formation and emergence of the American Fascist Party, in the guise of what used to be the Republican Party. (Just yesterday Trump’s SA, the Sturmabteilung popularly known as “Conservative Republicans”, stormed into a a private Congressional chamber to disrupt the testimony of a witness in the current impeachment inquiries. Ironically, several of the Sturmtruppen had already been invited into the hearing but chose to enter with their fellow Braunhemden. )

With the attention of so many Americans vacuumed into their now ubiquitous devices: tablets, smart phones, i-pads, i-pods, blueteeth, noise canceling and reality filtering headphones, etc., information about the nature and the ramifications of social change is increasingly an annoyance, meriting a grunt of uh huh, or “fake news”.

But returning to games, as of this writing one of the most amusing metaphors of American life is currently dominating television: the “World Series” of baseball. Since teams from no other countries have ever played in this series I always wondered why it was called the World Series. As I got older I came to understand American hubris.

I should first say that what I know about sports could be inscribed on the head of a pin, and not displace a single angel. And, I do not watch baseball since I very much dislike watching players and coaches chaw and chomp with open mouths as they spit and vomit various materials all over themselves and the playing field. This year the teams are the Washington Nationals versus the Houston Astros. If chawing and spitting is the predictor of victory, the Astros have it won as they did so all through the National Anthem.

In the context of Naomi Klein’s new book – discussed below – I was struck by the juxtaposition of a team from Houston, the epi-center of the planet-destroying fossil fuel industry versus a team from Washington D.C., the governmental center of the one nation on Earth with the most power to stop the destruction from that industry.

When we look at the history of the fossil fuel industry, particularly oil and gas, we see an ongoing march in which, as the industry grew, it progressively bought the U.S. government. It has shaped everything from domestic environmental policy to foreign policy and the decisions of where and how Americans will die in armed combat. It sets our moral standards as we look the other way from the death and butchering of a critic of an oil producing foreign partner and we fatally pollute the air, water, and food which sustains our own children. The currently ongoing attempt by the Houston Astros to subdue and conquer the Washington Nationals is American policy writ large. And the band plays on.

I’ve reproduced below the publisher’s review of the new book by Naomi Klein. I’ve read her other books and they have a prominent place in my library. Ms. Klein should have a prominent place in our collective mind. I would vote for her as President, but she is Canadian. It should be instructive that the Trump regime has just filed suit against the State of California for partnering with Canada in an effort to mitigate the horrendous damage to the planet’s air quality, especially in the wake of the regime’s roll-back of the Clean Air Act.

On Fire: The Case for a Green New Deal. By Naomi Klein.

#1 international and New York Times bestselling author Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine and This Changes Everything , makes the case for a Green New Deal–explaining how bold climate action can be a blueprint for a just and thriving society. For more than twenty years, Naomi Klein has been the foremost chronicler of the economic war waged on both people and planet–and an unapologetic champion of a sweeping environmental agenda with justice at its center. In lucid, elegant dispatches from the frontlines of contemporary natural disaster, she pens surging, indispensable essays for a wide public: prescient advisories and dire warnings of what future awaits us if we refuse to act, as well as hopeful glimpses of a far better future. On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal gathers for the first time more than a decade of her impassioned writing, and pairs it with new material on the staggeringly high stakes of our immediate political and economic choices. These long-form essays show Klein at her most prophetic and philosophical, investigating the climate crisis not only as a profound political challenge but as a spiritual and imaginative one, as well. Delving into topics ranging from the clash between ecological time and our culture of “perpetual now,” to the soaring history of humans changing and evolving rapidly in the face of grave threats, to rising white supremacy and fortressed borders as a form of “climate barbarism,” this is a rousing call to action for a planet on the brink. With reports spanning from the ghostly Great Barrier Reef, to the annual smoke-choked skies of the Pacific Northwest, to post-hurricane Puerto Rico, to a Vatican attempting an unprecedented “ecological conversion,” Klein makes the case that we will rise to the existential challenge of climate change only if we are willing to transform the systems that produced this crisis. An expansive, far-ranging exploration that sees the battle for a greener world as indistinguishable from the fight for our lives, On Fire captures the burning urgency of the climate crisis, as well as the fiery energy of a rising political movement demanding a catalytic Green New Deal.” 

So, this isn’t a video game. We can’t just control-alt-delete our way out of this death spiral. It seems many have misunderstood the meaning of Wu Wei, the concept developed by Kong Fu-Xi (“Confucius”), taking it simply as the benign “doing of nothing”.

We can no longer afford the Nowhere Man; Nowhereville is where we go to die, taking everything with us. A slogan which emerged in the 1960’s, and still rings true today was, “If you are not saying No, you are saying Yes.”

Of course, speaking up has its risks. Just today I received an email from Sharon Wilson, an environmental advocate, detailing how a fossil fuel company took her to court on false charges after she exposed their utterly poor environmental record. Even as I write this I wonder how many readers will accept that as a warning to keep their mouths shut and their communication devices tuned to other things.

I’ve been a wanderer all my life, but everywhere I’ve been is Somewhereville even though I’ve not always liked the human inhabitants.

Nightfall

Nightfall

by Marco M. Pardi

The day we see the truth and cease to speak is the day we begin to die.” Martin Luther King, Jr.


Anonymous.

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply.

As a child my favorite time was nightfall. The adults were settling down with whatever entertained them, leaving me with the freedom to have thoughts without fear of betraying them, looking into the darkness and feeling my imagination flex, free from the mundane imagery which otherwise confined me. Not a scared of the dark kind of kid, I welcomed it. Still do.

But we are entering a new kind of darkness, a darkness of uncertainty which carries a far greater likelihood of monsters than any childhood imagination could conjure. I’m not referring only to the thick drapery of lies, “alternative facts”, and provocations furled around us daily by the dark cabal which has seized power in Washington, though the “shining city on a hill” has become a gore blackened maw gnashing about to consume any and all who dare speak their mind, who slip and betray their thoughts.

I’m also speaking of the coming internal nightfall beginning to obscure what we had long seen so clearly as the future. Now, some would say everything goes in cycles, day follows night, etc. And some, like George Carlin, would remind us that “Behind every silver lining, there’s a dark cloud”. Some would see that glimmer of light on the horizon as the promise of a new dawn. And others would see it as the coming conflagration.

But neither side seems to understand that in social issues there are no certainties, such as the turning of the Earth relative to the Sun. There are no divinely ordained plans or rules governing the crapshoot we call progress. Those history classes we struggled through actually provided guidance, while we dutifully concentrated on names and dates for the tests. Even more evidence of the fate of “the best laid plans…” can be found in Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse. In short, there is no cosmic rule which ensures the eternal success of the Great American Experiment. In fact, as history is our guide we can see that authoritarian dictatorships lasted far longer than “of the people, by the people, and for the people” democracies.

Much has been said recently about the current presidential administration being characterized as chaos. A key former member of the administration, recently released, has just published a book entitled: Code Word: Chaos. But what, specifically does that mean, and why is it so?

Chaos is a state of extreme uncertainty, a state in which we are not able to quantify and qualify what our senses perceive. The most brightly lit arena of chaos is therefore one of profound cognitive darkness. Extreme uncertainty in this cognitive darkness evokes a primary emotion: fear, fear of the dark. Fear evokes secondary reactions: anger, or withdrawal – the so-called “fight or flight” response.

Many will take flight into avoidance and fantasy, watching television entertainment, sports, or other distractions while avoiding all national news and any local or media discussions. So, what part of “we, the people” are these bystanders? Others will lash out in anger, calling for law (imposed rules) and order (cancellation of choice), changing the equation to “of the few people, by the few people, and for the few people”.

An extraordinary example of chaos as a tactic was provided by the 1968 Nixon presidential campaign. Campaign speeches by Nixon and his vice-presidential candidate Agnew were given in small auditoriums and meeting halls. Attendees were ushered in and seated before a stage set with a podium. Exits behind the stage were obscured, leaving only the exits behind the seated attendees through which the attendees had passed as possible exit points. Then, part way through the speech crowds of rowdy, shouting (hired) “protesters” in “Hippie clothes” came in behind the attendees and began chanting and blocking the exits. The sudden and loud disruption coming from behind startled the attendees who, upon turning around, felt themselves trapped. The chaos and the felt inability to escape it produced fear, which the speaker then guided into anger directed at those “radical left wing hippies”. Order was restored, fear was first directed into anger, and then the attendees were subtly influenced to credit the speaker (Nixon or Agnew) with saving them and restoring order.

This played out several times across the country. It was a masterful and highly successful tactic. Whatever the attendees heard from the speaker was amplified tenfold by what the attendees felt for the speaker. As an operations officer I could not have designed a better tactic.

The Trump rallies follow a different scheme, Trump being a former television “reality” character. The cameras placed to capture him frontally are set to include constant views of attendees sitting behind him; they never see anything but his overly ample haunches wagging back and forth before them unless they look for an in-house jumbotron. But that’s the point: the on-camera attendees, howling in orgasmic frenzy at his every word, are as much the messenger as he is. They are the chorus in a Greek tragedy, visually amplifying the angst expounded in the hyperbolic rhetoric. They do their jobs well.

The theme of Chaos rings through and the chorus wails for the Strong Man to save us. Aeschylus must be turning in his grave. This is the road to dictatorship. And this is why Chaos, whether real or believed, is such a necessary tool to the building of that dictatorship.

Over the past three years we have often been warned the system of checks and balances has become increasingly disabled. But now, as the opposing Party is awakening and groping in the dark for the levers of power we can no longer excuse the current administration as innocently ignorant of those Constitutional checks and balances. Except for Trump, the Puppet-in-Place, and his spawn, the Presidential henchmen know exactly what those checks and balances are and how they work. And it is for that reason that they do not deny them but rather seek to discredit them. This tactic, too, has a good likelihood of success. In a twist on Aesop’s Sour Grapes people who do not understand institutions, and therefore feel those institutions are not working for them, seize on any disparagement of those institutions as valid and true. And when pressed to suggest replacements they rush first to the support of the Strong Man. He knows better than the generals. He knows better than the Congress. He alone can fix it.

While it does seem there are glimmers of light in the darkness, increasing examples of knowledgeable people speaking out, I am puzzled as to why the “Republican” cabal does not oust its puppet. Apparently the Russians did sway a very large number of voters to install Trump but it seems the established Republican politicians fear that not enough of those voters have awakened. Yet, as has long been the habit of the Republican party, they have a vice president in the wings who is far more capable of assuming the dictator mantle. Simply impeaching Trump, even bringing him up on the criminal charges he so rightly deserves, will not derail the long and massive train carrying us to dictatorship. The Party is driving the locomotive; the voter “base” is distributed throughout the train, waiting to throw off any fellow passengers who sing out of tune. There have been repeated warnings of “civil war”, most notably the recent “dog whistle” from Trump himself. Having worked in counter-terrorism as long as I have, I do not for a moment doubt bloodshed is imminently possible, perhaps likely.

Supporting this dismal view are the almost daily comments from officials and political scientists that “we’ve never seen anything like this before in American politics.” In other words, Chaos. These comments from officials and political scientists refer to the behavior and pronouncements of the administration. These behaviors and pronouncements are not aimed at Americans in general, they are aimed at “the base”, the poorly educated and resentful mob that sent the Tea Party to Congress and now wonders why governmental processes went off the rails.

While darkness frees the imagination to “create” it can also mask the very real threats. Being a nightfighter is not a skill acquired easily from reading or listening to media broadcasts. It develops in the very young, and is not always the happiest way to live a life. But this is a time when we must overcome our fear of the dark.

I stood on that corner in Winslow, Arizona………..lookin’ for that flatbed Ford……………

Maybe I should have waited for daybreak.

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